, too busy to try to get everything, but I'm going to pull out a few things from your post and try to focus on them because I feel like I'm growing increasingly unclear on some things:
"point two, there's a variety of events occurring that make your board position worse at all times, you literally used the word "inevitable" which is a pretty clear indication of what I'm talking about.
To make sure we understand each other. "inevitable" here was about "At-War status." At-War status is, as intended, a hardship on play that is meant to be resolved. But its kindred to something like "74 HP Fighter is at reduced value x now" (with value x having consequential associated riders such as how dangerous is status reduced value x actually, how rare vs how prolific restoration of that value to 74 is, what other means does the Fighter have to minimize that HP loss, does the Fighter have breadth of tactical move-space to resort to which would partially obviate the gamestate reality of reduced value x HP, etc) or "13 spell Wizard is at reduced value x now with loss of level spells y and z." Given enough play, the Fighter and the Wizard are both going to achieve this state during play. Whether or not (a) the gamestate is unrecoverable or (b) inherently degrades perpetually is a matter of asking and answering those other questions. You can certainly design a D&D where either/or/both (a) and (b) are true, but they aren't true as a matter of the Fighter or Wizard being in those states at some point in play.
Here is a very interesting aspect of At-War status in Blades:
The present Crew I'm GMing is at Tier 4. They have chosen a particular Advance (War Dogs) that nullifies the two major hindrances (though there are a few other smaller things At-War does such as "Claims that generate Coin during DT generate only half as much) of the "At War condition"; -1 Hold and 1 vs 2 Downtime Activities during DT.
So guess what there strategy has pretty much been since they had it? Force as many of their Enemies into At-War status with them as possible and live there perpetually as they knock-off their now weakened enemies or leverage that weakened state to dictate terms (while they themselves were relatively unscathed by the status).
The prior Crew I GMed that got to Tier 4? They did not have the above Advance. Consequently, they did not adopt this strategy to persist in At-War status. As soon as they went to At-War status with a Faction, they dedicated their means (Scores and Longterm Projects via DTAs) to resolving that status by either eliminating the faction outright, arranging for armistice (0 Faction), or finding a way to turn their former foes into positive to Ally status (+1 to +3).
but I found the whole thing frustrating, because I could never find a line of play that led to victory, or make a decision that felt meaningfully superior to another. Narratively, I might prefer one consequence to another, but I couldn't find a handle on mechanically how I got ahead of the game and it seemed that the game was designed not to let me do that. There was no optimal line of play I could articulate a preference for.
So this reminds me of @prabe
(who has xped you and we've had conversations to this end multiple times) where he has expressed exactly the same disposition toward Blades in the Dark as you do.
So above, when I said that an inherently degrading gamestate (you're calling "board state") that isn't adequately sensitive to player inputs to arrest that (perceived) spiral = skillfulness of play becomes sufficiently decoupled from play process & results such that the ability to evaluate skillful play from unskillful play is obscured
, this above quote is what I'm driving at. Like CoC? Who cares about skillful play. Your descent into madness is locked in. The game isn't sufficiently sensitive to skillful play for it to matter (which is why no one talks about this nor approaches the game in a competitive manner). Evaluating CoC upon skillful play when (a) the gamestate is encoded to spiral and (b) the GM can literally Calvinball the way there (deploy Force to do a runaround of the rules if need be) if they need to (they typically don't though).
Outside of that though, what I'm sensing is you have a very small amount of play under your belt at the opening gamestate of Blades in the Dark. And, yes, that opening gamestate is a difficult "board state" (by design). Its precarious and its quite demanding. As a result of your small sample size at the precarious opening gamestate exclusively, you have a lot of raw feelings and raw assessments about the dynamics of the game ("frustrated", "felt", "seemed", "could never find a line of play to victory"). This is the post-play orientation that someone playing CoC who is expecting to play it skillfully (and for that differentiation of skillful vs unskillful to (a) matter and (b) be readily discernible to you) would have.
In contrast to your friend's 4xbee game and CoC, in Blades in the Dark progression (I've called it "cresting the Tier 2 wave"), both the available line of plays
(I typically call this "move-space") + your ability to amplify any given line of play
becomes increased rather than contracted
. So I'm wondering if your feelings and assessments are an emergent property of that limited sample size extrapolation (as well as the cohort of that sample size being at Tier 0S which bears little resemblance to 2W which bears little resemblance to 4W) and maybe some priors (which might include your own inherent cognitive orientation and situational anxiety at the duress of such an opening gamestate; "claustrophobia")? Perhaps if you're 16 sessions downstream and you've "crested the Tier 2 wave" with the gamestate ("board state") that entails, you might feel differently? You might be able to articulate "well, when faced with situation y
last week, the line of play a
that I chose was a bit of a misplay...I should have played line of play b
. Consequently, my play last week was less skillful than I would have liked it to be. If we could instantiate that exact "board state" again, I would choose b and the result would be an improved overall gamestate for my PC and the Crew." And maybe as a result of that newfound ability to couple play inputs and outputs to enhanced or degraded "board states", you might feel and assess differently?
EDIT - FInal thought on this. I don't know if your one-shot play of Blades was with a friend GMing or with a GM at a con. So forgive me if you were GMed by a friend. But I am fairly skeptical of the technical GMing skill and understanding/application of the ruleset with which the one-shots you were involved in were run (I've witnessed a host of anecdotes online and in person that illustrate that "Blades GMs in the wild" are not running the game as intended). Blades in the Dark is a game that is very sensitive to GMing skill and the ability to integrate multiple lines of information simultaneously. Its very sensitive to procedural integrity (or lack thereof). Someone might be an incredible AD&D 2e GM and be the most unimaginably unskillful Blades in the Dark GM possible (particularly if they don't understand the game/procedures and they're smuggling in priorities and techniques from other games; like AD&D 2e).
So there is that as well.